In the two weeks before the end of Donald Trump’s tenure as Commander-in-Chief of all US military forces on January 20, Netanyahu’s government apparently realized that, from the point of view of the disintegrating administration and the heads of the US armed forces, an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the “peaceful transfer of power” to the administration of President-Elect Joe Biden would be untenable; this in the wake of the Trump-inspired armed insurrection by thousands of far right-wing militants on the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6. In the unprecedented coup attempt that resulted in six deaths, the insurrectionists openly sought to prevent both houses of Congress from certifying the results of the December 14 voting of the Electoral College, which in turn had awarded Joe Biden the victory determined by the counting and recounting of the November 3 presidential election popular vote.
While Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to condemn the January 6 insurrection against Congress, he remained silent regarding the role played by his staunchest ally in the White House, Donald Trump, who inspired the violence; indeed, who has been planning such a possible putsch since the summer, months before the election, by discrediting the very notion that he could possibly lose the contest; and if he was declared “the loser” (a life-long anathema to Trump, a sociopathic narcissist), this only would prove that the election was rife with fraud and stolen from him and from tens of millions of his supporters. The world looked on with horror and astonishment at the events of January 6; but rather than stop the constitutionally dictated work of Congress, Trump’s rantings only succeeded in having him become the first US president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives for a second time, exactly a week later on January 13.
However, the US is far from out of the crisis, and mass demonstrations by militant, armed to varying degrees Trump supporters are anticipated on the day of the inauguration itself, Wednesday, January 20 at noon, as well in the days leading up to and almost surely following the change of administrations, both in the nation’s capital and in the capitals of possibly as many as all 50 states and other locations throughout the country. “The chickens have come home to roost,” as they say, and America, with a long, distinguished record of subverting the elections of other nations; of inspiring right-wing coups; and of supporting dictators to the serve the interests of US capital, finds itself with a plethora of mature, violent and very well-armed, home-grown militias of varying extreme right-wing white supremacist ideologies, numbering upwards of 900 such organizations, whose members include tens of thousands, but which have a support base of many millions. These internal terrorist militias are most definitely not the product of Trump; rather, they have been festering and spreading for decades. Historically, the roots of their rise and development can be traced back more than a century and a half, to the period of Reconstruction following the defeat of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But on the backdrop of the global crisis of capitalism; of the more than 40-year hegemony of neoliberalism with its calls for fiscal austerity and for globalization, the latter of which brought in its wake the large-scale flight of industry from the United States; of the resulting immiseration of the white working class and the desiccation of the white middle-class; and of the inexorable, immigrant-driven demographic shift in the population of the United States towards increased “people of color,” the presidency of Donald J. Trump was the first time ever that these heterogeneous masses have had, they are convinced, “their man” in the White House. Thus, they see his defeat, nay, his being robbed, as emblematic of their own.
Netanyahu, who knows and understands America and the Congress better than any Israeli leader ever, made the necessary decision following the insurrection of January 6: cancel any thought of taking out the Iranian nuclear facilities, with the authorization and undoubtedly the active participation of the long arm of the US military in the waning hours of the Trump administration. Instead, the calculating Israeli prime minister, arranged a “consolation prize” for himself and Israel’s armed forces: Netanyahu instructed the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, to meet with the extreme-right Christian evangelical fanatic, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (himself a future contender for the presidency), to get the US intelligence-supplied targets for a down-sized attack against Iran; tactically painful, but not strategic, and not demanding an immediate retaliation by Iran (which has been exercising remarkable self constraint for the past two months until Biden takes over). Pompeo and Cohen held a very public meeting on Monday, January 11, in a popular Washington restaurant Café Milano; this according to a senior US intelligence official who told the Associated Press in a report published on Wednesday, January 13, to discuss what would manifest itself as Israel’s air strike against Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria overnight between January 12-13. This would be just the latest, largest and most spacious of similar actions by Israel in recent weeks and months.
The same US official told the AP that these airs strikes of a day earlier were carried out by Israel with intelligence provided by the United States. The attack resulted in more than 50 dead and an unreported number of wounded, and is considered to the most extensive attack by Israel thus far against Iranian-backed targets in the area. The remarks by the US official after the attack marked a rare case of publicized cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria. The reported strikes came only hours after Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the Syrian border, where he said Israel would continue to take action against its enemies “near and far.” “We aren’t sitting around and waiting. We’re active defensively, politically, and economically,” he said.
According to Zo Haderech, the Communist Party of Israel’s Hebrew-language weekly, the attack on Syria was ordered by the Trump administration. However, anyone familiar with the dynamics of the Trump-Netanyahu liaison knows that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” this past summer was authored by the Israeli prime minister, and passed on to the US president through the good offices of Jared Kushner. Doubtless this is also how Trump decided when to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in the spring of 2018. Therefore, while Trump’s being “credited” with the idea and the specific timing of the attack may, for public consumption, be attributed to the about to be re-impeached US president (more overcompensation for his defeat?), it is reasonable to suppose that, given the many meetings between Israeli and US commanders in the last month or so, that this was Plan B that was devised to be implemented in case Plan A, a joint attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, proved to be untenable at this stage. And doubtless, the real author was Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s Pyrotechnic Extortion of the Biden Administration
On Wednesday, January 13, Likud ministers generally refrained from confirming whether Israel was behind the overnight raid in Syria, but said the incoming US administration must not “appease Iran,” and warned Tehran the Israeli army “will not tolerate its military presence in Syria or its development of nuclear weapons.” However, not to risk being ambiguous, only hours after the attack, Likud Minister of Settlement Affairs, Tzachi Hanegbi, considered a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened that Israel could attack Iran if the United States rejoined the nuclear deal, as US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to do.
Not missing even a beat, on Thursday, January 14, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily reported on its front-page Israel’s Military Chief of Staff, Lt. General Aviv Kohavi, had asked for “three alternate proposals to derail Tehran’s nuclear program.” And in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, Likud minister Yuval Steinitz said that Jewish state was engaged in a “tremendous effort against Iran and its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and establish itself in Syria.” According to Haaretz’s military correspondent, Amos Harel, “Besides an apparent renewed effort to disrupt Iran’s attempt to move arms and militias through Iraq and Syria, there’s the message that Israel will continue to strike regardless of the new US president’s Iran policy.” This in addition to the military’s admittedly preparing alternative plans of operation to destroy the reactor and auxiliary installations in Tehran, now that it will apparently have to do the deed alone, without active US participation.
So, having lost his one truly loyal American presidential ally in the maelstrom of US politics, and having to forego the last minute strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities, Benjamin Netanyahu is letting the soon to be resident in the White House know who really calls the shots in the Middle East. In sending this signal, Netanyahu, the consummate political survivor, is licking his wounds, regrouping, and engaging in the sort of arrogant pyrotechnic extortion worthy both of himself and his failed apprentice, the soon-to-be former American president.